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Stewart Lynell Gordon, a distinguished professor of keyboard studies at the University of Southern California, has a wide-ranging discography to his name and, half a century ago, founded the William Kapell International Piano Competition, which he directed for 15 years. He has also published an edition of Beethoven’s sonatas with Alfred Music, based on his experience as a pianist and teacher

This friendly, helpful, refreshingly non-doctrinaire guide to performing Beethoven is quite far from what appears to be a hornet’s nest atmosphere in American musicology today.

It is addressed to thinking pianists who wish to make up their own minds about what Beethoven may have wanted in his sonatas. It is a book of choices, reasonably argued. In a tone readers may find familiar from Gordon’s previous books from Oxford University Press (Etudes for Piano Teachers, Reflections on the Teacher’s Art and Mastering the Art of Performance), hints are offered that when in doubt about fine points such as staccato, indications from editions and manuscripts may vary.

Examining Beethoven’s sketchbooks can be helpful, though they are incomplete and never meant as definitive statements: ‘Sketches sometimes clarify contradictions between the manuscripts and early editions, and studying the evolution of the music offers insights into the composer’s creative process.’

If the prose style is at times stately, the observations are usually apt, as in this comment on the Hammerklavier sonata: ‘It is as if Beethoven included pages from his sketchbook in the body of the sonata itself and a musical description of the awakening of inspiration as the fugue subject dawned.’

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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